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C.L.R. James Hackney library and pamphlet

2015 April 5

Snapshot  cover james

Christian Hogsbjerg, a C.L.R. James scholar, who had seen some of my political papers in the Bishopsgate Institute recently contacted me. He had been taken aback that a local council could have named a library (in Dalston in Hackney) after a black marxist anti imperialist : this was scarcely his experience of councils in the last  30 years and asked to interview me.

His pamphlet on the naming of the library (and the saving of the name some decades on!) written with Gaverne Bennett was launched in the library. Various activists from the 1980s who had contributed to the pamphlet were there to discuss how the library had been so named. For some the context was simply around anti-racism; for others it was the broader local politics of the time: campaigns against rate-capping, supporting the miners, providing apprenticeships and keeping building contracts in-house, declaring the borough to be a nuclear-free zone.

Every generation constructs a history it deems relevant for its present. Clearly the current local state has no wish to remember its radical past. Whether the story recounted that local councillors thought that the library had been named after a former councillor, thereby showing a lack of literacy as well as political knowledge could not be confirmed.There are few commemorative traces of that time in Hackney: a recently restored peace mural, flats named after Nelson Mandela and a council building after Maurice Bishop and plaques to the direct labour training project.

This pamphlet goes some way to bringing into the present that forgotten time.

2 Responses Post a comment
  1. Martin Bashforth permalink
    April 11, 2015

    Good to see this wonderful man still remembered at all. I had the good fortune to hear him speak in the West Midlands back in 1968 when I was thrashing around for an alternative to the CP and YCL (still thrashing around, but with less vigour, it gets tiring). He spoke eloquently of life in his native home and of his abiding love for cricket, as much as of ‘politics’ and placing his own humanity at the heart of his politics he had an impact on me at the time that I still recall with fondness. This sort of humanity we need more of.

  2. April 13, 2015

    Thanks Hilda for highlighting this – the best way for people to currently get hold of a copy of this is through Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop in Bloomsbury – the link is here, though I think the CLR James Library itself was planning to order some copies to have on sale.

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